Hispanic Media’s Inevitable Change.

     Read the blogs, read the trades and there’s no doubt that Hispanic media, as we know it, will never be the same after this recession…however long it may go on.

In the long run, this may actually turn out to be a good thing.

A few weeks ago I sadly wrote about Hoy’s ceasing to exist in print form and “going online.”  Just today I heard the news that El Nuevo Hudson in Hudson, New Jersey will cease to publish after February, 2009.  Somewhere in between, there’s been a steady stream of closings, layoffs, down-sizing and more of that “going online” stuff.  We are all feeling the pain.

It seems that much of the growth that our Hispanic media industry (particularly print) has experienced over the past ten years is unraveling. I am not certain what happened at El Nuevo Hudson and cannot even guess. But for other small publishers, sometimes the signs are right there in front of us: cutting frequency, cutting page count, cutting circulation, cutting staff, no research, missing issues, no distribution information…for some it is a downward slide that just marks the beginning of the end. Unfortunately, these declines have been going on for some time in case you had not noticed.

One advertiser I know has even started going around from newsstand to newsstand inspecting racks and asking around to monitor if the title actually arrives regularly at that location or if people even pick it up. Others have resorted to asking for printing statements, audits and insisting on proprietary studies that better define their audience.  For publishers, it is getting tougher by the day.

And that’s just the tip of this frigid recession iceberg; other clues about the sad state of Hispanic media can be found all over the trades: right here on HispanicAd.com in a blog by Jose Cancela raising questions about Univision’s financial strength or in Manny Gonzalez’s eye raising and emotion-evoking piece asking whether Telemundo and Univision should merge.  Look elsewhere and you’ll find plenty of similar commentary; even the general media is talking about us. Clearly, something is amiss…or perhaps the writing is finally on the wall?  That we are talking and writing and thinking doomsday scenarios is very telling indeed.

Rossana Rosado, publisher at el diario/La Prensa, the country’s oldest Spanish language daily, always attaches a quote to her emails that includes the phrase “Change is inevitable…” There’s great irony, wisdom and truth in that one little quote and it is certainly interesting not only that she chose it in the first place, but that it comes from someone running a Hispanic title that’s been a success for nearly a hundred years.  If I never mentioned to her how important and prophetic that one little quote has been to me personally, well I am doing so now.

Much of the changes- the filtering out of some of these media properties – can be described as a sort of “natural selection”.  When you can’t verify that you actually even print what you claim to circulate or you fail to convince your backers that the Hispanic market is indeed a viable market, bad things start to happen: people loose their jobs and the overall faith in multicultural media diminishes. Then it just becomes an avalanche.

Now I am not looking to lay blame on the media itself, but sooner or later shortcuts, little white lies, lack of proper funding, getting in for a quick buck, distribution issues and lack of adequate research does come back to bite you in the ass. Take a look at what media is still around after all this is over and you will quickly realize that if you can survive this bleak economic slowdown, you just might be around for many, many years to come.

Again, natural selection!

Advertisers too have been accused of not adequately supporting Hispanic media with advertising dollars.  AHAA on several occasions has pointed out that the percentage of revenue spent in Hispanic media is not in sync with the percentage of the U.S. Hispanic population . On that point I have to agree that when it comes to cutting media spending, often multicultural budgets are the first to go. Considering that one-third of the U.S. population is ethnic and growing, I find this a bit shocking.  But it is what it is until we find a way to change it and sell it better. In this respect it is hard to blame the media backers for getting cold feet.

As we move forward and past this economic nightmare, we need to start thinking about tomorrow and how to right some of the obvious wrongs (and by wrongs I mean everything from perceptions to realities).  Multicultural consumers, and especially Hispanics, are not going anywhere.  So when things rebound — and they always do- we need to have a cohesive plan of action and already be on the move. Whatever this message will be, it needs to be born now, today!

It should be something along the lines of: We are ethnic media, we are still here, we are not all gone, and we are certainly not all leaving.

In print or online, those that are still around should be ready to lead the way and offer viable (and verifiable) means to reach their particular segments.  By the time the ad dollars start flowing again, we need to be up to par with the general media rules of engagement and stop doing the things that got us into trouble in the first place.  Smaller startups, publishers and media properties should be especially diligent because the days of handshake selling are pretty much gone.   The big boys like Time Inc., Meredith, NBC/Telemundo, Univision, Impremedia and foreign media investors and companies like Editorial Televisa will — and must – lead the way!

What I am saying is: Hispanic media may need fixing, but there’s no need to throw it all away. For those that got into it thinking it would be a quick, easy buck obviously its not. This really has to be about commitment to the community and a long-term investment. If you need breathing room or need to move slowly, that is understandable.  But stick around.

Reactionary panic is not the answer and certainly not the way of pioneers and trendsetters, which is what we still are.  Remember that with the 2010 Census there will be astonishing revelations that will take our investments to a new plateau!  Don’t you want to be there?

I find it interesting that the ones that did it right from the start, were patient and stuck it out during all the ups and downs, may actually be the ones still around after this moment in history passes. There’s something to be said about understanding how a fast growing market evolves.

Change is inevitable.

By Roger Gonzalez

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